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Community tensions divide tug-of-war towns in eastern Ukraine

#Community #tensions #divide #tugofwar #towns #eastern #Ukraine

When Nadiya Gorbunova talks about her neighbors – she is standing in front of a post office in the Ukrainian city of Mykolayivka – she crosses the street and lowers her voice.

She suspects that around 80 percent of her roommates are in favor of Russian troops across the river overrunning their hometown in the eastern Donbass region and claiming it for the Kremlin.

“There are no physical clashes, but the pro-Russians are constantly trying to be aggressive,” Gorbunova, 58, told AFP in a conspiratorial tone.

Your own loyalty is clear. She carries a kitschy shopping bag with a sacred Ukrainian woman destroying an enemy tank with a flaming sword.

This bitter rift between neighbors is playing out in villages and towns that have been at the forefront of the vicious tug-of-war between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

“There is no love, no harmony,” says Gorbunova.

– Split ‘in their souls’ –

The conflict began in Donbass in 2014 after a pro-Western revolution in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Ukrainian forces fought off pro-Russian separatists, who received military and financial support from Russia and seized part of the region.

The region’s residents are predominantly Russian-speaking, but ethnically not majority Russian.

The true extent of pro-Russian sentiment is difficult to gauge.

The frontline town of Bakhmut in Donetsk is the area where last month’s Russian offensive in Donbass was most successful, according to the UK MoD.

The constant sound of artillery fire echoes from largely abandoned apartment buildings, and the city is riddled with tank traps and roadblocks.

It is also divided along other lines.

“People are divided into two camps in their souls,” said 52-year-old Sergey Nikitin.

“Everyone has their own opinion and everyone shuts up.”

Still, Nikitin gives not-so-subtle hints about his beliefs.

He talks about the “degradation” in Ukraine, the closure of factories since the end of the Soviet Union and the potential job opportunities in Russia.

Mykhaylo Matsoyan, 38, recalls overhearing his neighbors in Bakhmut discussing “that it would be great if the Russians came”.

He confronted her and “a fight almost broke out so I had to leave,” he says.

“You can’t prove anything to fools.”

But another resident leaving a pharmacy is hiding his political allegiance.

“We are all waiting for peace. I make no difference. I love everyone, I’m for peace,” said 40-year-old Dmitriy before hurrying off.

– “We do not care” –

“We meet people who have a pro-Russian stance. And I explain to them that it wasn’t us who came to their country with guns,” says 56-year-old soldier Sergei from central Ukraine while standing on a roadside Coffee drinks kiosk.

“I always say: If I come to my neighbor with bread, he will set the table, but if I come with a gun, he will fight back.”

The city of Soledar is as close as possible to Russian territory.

Moscow’s troops are believed to be on the outskirts, possibly already within the city limits.

The shelling here is constant, the devastation of the city is complete.

There is no tension on the streets, the situation is too bad for that.

“We are waiting for all this to pass,” says 59-year-old Oleg Makeev.

“We don’t care whether they’re Ukrainians or Russians, we just need a peaceful life, that’s all.”

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#Community #tensions #divide #tugofwar #towns #eastern #Ukraine

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